Today’s challenges for the mining industry are many and varied, with a rapidly-evolving digital terrain solving many issues, while at the same time adding complexity to operations.
While many mining operations have felt the sting of the resources boom coming to an end in recent years, those with a positive vision have secured their future by adopting leaner, smarter and generally more efficient business processes via the adoption of new digital technologies.
With recent reports now indicating accelerated growth for Australian mining in 2018 and beyond, it is imperative that these practises are put to proper use in order to capitalise on new opportunities.
Coupled with this digital evolution, mining as an industry faces a raft of every-day challenges– stringent regulations, health and safety issues and governance, tight security protocols, volatile markets, and issues such as mental health and personal safety, reducing workforces, remote operations and harsh environments – all affect staff on the ground.
More than in most other industries, there is the added concern of ‘knowledge drain,’ with experienced staff building on many years of on-site training and know-how. Mining requires a range of very specific skillsets, and operatives who are experienced in working with diverse and often potentially hazardous materials and conditions. To safeguard against losing that experience and to pass it on to others within the organisation, it is important to prepare and capture critical knowledge,therefore maintaining continuity and minimising risk to operations.
As capital-intensive businesses with large-scale and expensive projects, mining companies continue to search for ways to improve their rate of success and minimise risks, including poor workflows and the risk of information loss.The larger the project, the greater the number of stakeholders involved and the more complex the types of communication and business processes required throughout the life of the project. Effective and efficient collaboration between departments – often separated by thousands of kilometres – is critical to reducing costs, improving the quality of decisions and minimising rework.
A modern content services platform, includes functionality such as enterprise content management (ECM), case management, business process management, records management and capture on a single database. Additionally, it provides fast, safe and secure delivery of information to approved stakeholders throughout the company. Integrating the solution with existing systems, and drawing from existing digital resources in place across the organisation, provides authorised users with instant access to the information they need – whenever and wherever they need it – from within the systems they already use every day.
At Becker Mining Systems,who work with mining and industry clients to provide engineering, mechanical, electricaland labour hire solutions across offices in Kalgoorlie, Townsville, Perth, MossVale, Unanderra and Newcastle,project teams were usually drawn from a single office. However, the company implemented a CSS solution several years ago, and staff now frequently findthemselves working with colleagues across the country.
“Now there is much more collaboration on any given project,” explains George Buckley, Chief Financial Officer at Becker Mining Systems. “For example, we may have a project running at Moss Vale that calls for heavy involvement of some Newcastle staff. Therefore, there must be excellent information flow between Newcastle and Moss Vale.”
Buckley noticed issues were beginning to emerge due to gaps in communication between project teams.
“We found people were getting information by email at one site,but it wasn’t always conveyed to interested parties at other sites. So, if someone received a variation on a project, for whatever reason, the variation might not be passed on. The information wasn’t getting through the system.”
An advanced content services solution solution gives all approved stakeholders a complete, 360-degree view of a project. All documentation, and associated images, are visible in the one easily-accessible place.
Jamie Atherton, ANZ Country Manager for content services providers Hyland, said: “Mining companies need a single source of truth that will facilitate the sharing of critical knowledge across the organisation and sites. Their solution should provide a consistent and controlled way to manage documents and content, delivering that information whenever and wherever it is needed, regardless of location and restrictions.”
Typically, any industry that relies heavily on project management skill sets will want to:
- Simplify and standardise informationsharing and data capture processesenterprise-wide
- Improve users’ ability to correctly capture context and actively manage the life cycle of content
- Improve access to, and control of all document-based assets for all staff, key alliance partners and contractors
“In reality, many mining companies store documents in various systems, creating information silos,leading to duplicate content and lack of control.Deploying a single enterprise information platform to efficiently manage all of your documents, policies, procedures, records, content, processes and cases will provide vital safeguards,” said Atherton.
Managing the flow of information and the complexity of large mining projects can be a daunting task, with potentially tens of thousands of associated documents in diverse file formats including contracts, production reports, geo-mapping and exploration images, engineering drawings, big data analysis of remote machinery and a host of other electronic and physical records.
Companies that have a methodology in place for tracking, capturing, accessing and managing the flow of information will be in a better position to avoid unnecessary expenditure, reduce risks and avoid the incurred costs of locating or recreating information as a project moves from an exploration phase to being operational, and onwards as it becomes a core resource.
George Buckley states that the company has experienced time savings, increased accuracy, better collaboration and reduced administrative effort since their ECM system was deployed.
“We print less, store less and lose fewer documents,” he notes. “We have greater accuracy because we are always working with the latest document. The exciting thing is we’ve only scratched the surface so far.”
In some mining operations today, paper-based processes are still used for capturing, routing and reviewing the information and data associated with major projects. Relying on folders full of documents and images is inefficient, and if a project manager does not have access to the most up-to-date contracts, or if the most recent drawings or other documentation is not readily available for review, the adverse impact can influence the timelines, quality and cost of the entire project. The relationship between the flow of information and the cost of the project is very tightly related.
ASX-listed Imdex, who provide innovative drilling fluids and advanced down hole survey instrumentation to the mining, oil and gas, water well, horizontal directional drilling and civil engineering industries, also deployed a content services platform several years ago.
“The feedback we are receiving from staff and management is that the system is a big improvement over what we had before,” said Adam Soudure,CIO, Imdex Limited. “There’s more accuracy because it’s become easier to find stuff. Utilising workflow bins, we can identify the status of hire forms at any given time. We can see which workflow something is in,what’s happening to a job as it comes through, whose viewed or edited the document and exactly what’s been done. The process is completely auditable and transparent. The visibility and speed with which the system can be updated is far superior to the way we did it before.”
Information held within a content services solution can solve many of the knowledge and process challenges faced by mining companies as the industry starts to expand once more, allowing staff to focus on specific tasks, while mitigating project risks, managing key documentation and communication, leveraging past experiences and enabling collaboration.
Moving away from paper records will allow an organisation to access and manage documents and records on their projects throughout the full lifecycle, helping project teams streamline operations and procedures.Integrated software applications, including solutions for building and managing contracts, email and electronic records management and automatic workflow technologies, directly impact the costs associated with a site as it moves from exploration through to setting up, and onwards as it begins to turn over a profit.
Fast access to correct information is critical for a number of reasons. On a macro level, it helps answer any questions about the project that may have come up from management and board members, in a fast and efficient manner. Instant access to critical information can help mitigate many of the risks associated with a project, as well as provide quick insights to help avoid legal or regulatory consequences.Instant access to information also helps workers respond to situations such as scope changes, make important decisions about potentially hazardous working conditions, see a full list of equipment used on a particular site and much more,ensuring they are equipped to make the right decisions.
When information is captured and stored in a central electronic repository through the life of the project, the owner can determine which records to keep,what data to transfer to the operational team for day-to-day use and what information can be deleted once the project is complete.Records Management applications empower users to apply records disposition according to organisational policies, ensuring regulatory compliance and reducing the risks associated with audit and litigation.Different extraction operations require different sets of regulations, for example, so these can be separated quickly and easily within an existing workflow.
An example of a data-intensive process that would benefit from a centralised approach to content management is the creation and life cycle of contracts.
Organisations can rely on digital tools to automate contract creation and amendments. A key benefit to the enterprise is the elimination of duplicated documentation.A digital solution can extract the key variable data contained within contracts and automatically upload the appropriate parts of that data to back-end systems, such asERPs, CRMs and other finance systems – without any manual intervention. Changes to contracts can be automatically updated within ERP systems very quickly, ensuring timely actioning and payment.
Another key element to consider when looking at digital solutions is the cultural change inherent in such exercises. Standard structures, formatting and cataloguing often replace the myriad of former silo-specific practices.It can be a massive change in the way people work, the way they think about the content and the information they create.
An advanced content solution will interact with all existing systems, which means that staff do not have to learn an entirely new set of workplace skills and programs. Rather, the management system enhances the flow of information between these existing systems, and presents critical information in a way that improves visibility across the organisation.
Jamie Atherton of Hyland concludes by stating: “Once information is under control, you have visibility into the status of documents, processes and information. In a high-risk environment like a mining operation, access to a single source of truth plays a vital role in a company’s continuous drive for safe and productive working environments.”
Deploying a content services solution is about creating an environment where people are empowered by better information and communication right across the board. Processes that were once labour-intensive become automated, documentation is immediately accessible, and visibility across workflows reduces risk and allows for better decision-making.